FOXBORO – It was 11:28 p.m., just after Stephen Gostkowski’s 28-yarder at the buzzer ended a Sunday Night Football game you won’t forget.
As I walked from the media elevator to the field I thumbed out a tweet I suspected might get some pushback.
“That was a great, great game.”
What a great great game.— Tom E. Curran (@tomecurran) October 15, 2018
That conclusion should have been self-evident. But launching a tweet like that into the vortex of snark and negativity that swirls on Twitter during Patriots games is asking for a mass debunking.
The “yeah, buts . . . ” and laments about which guy sucks, what play call was stupid and how this team won’t be winning Super Bowls playing like that usually come raining down.
But this time, the bitchers, moaners and punch-bowl turds were vastly outnumbered by people realizing just what they watched.
Two teams putting up almost 1,000 yards of offense (500 for the Pats, 465 for the Chiefs)
The greatest quarterback of all time dueling the most exciting young quarterback in the NFL.
A franchise in the autumn of its years at the top, rolling up its sleeves at crunch time and using a whole lot of Dad strength to subdue the latest wannabe.
“Wannabe” isn’t meant to demean the Chiefs. Every team in the league that’s not based on Route 1 in Foxboro wants to be what the Patriots have been for two decades, not just another notch on the belt of Brady and Belichick.
It used to be the same here. We’d get giddy talk about the 1994 opener when Drew Bledsoe and Dan Marino dueled and the Patriots lost 38-34, the same way people in Kansas City are going to talk about this one.
But we’re a little jaded now. We’ve got a catalog of indelible games to thumb through now. So many that, when these games end we’re like jewelers inspecting diamonds searching for flaws in something that was really, really exquisite.
The journey to 43-40 was as entertaining and jammed with intrigue as any other regular-season game in recent memory.
It was 27-26 entering the last quarter, the Chiefs having erased a 24-9 halftime lead with a 67-yard touchdown pass from Patrick Mahomes to Kareem Hunt after Bill Belichick warned his team all week long about guarding against big plays. And there was a strip-sack of Brady in there too when the quarterback went on walkabout and got hammered to set up a touchdown pass to the uncoverable Tyreek Hill.
That was the prelude to a 30-point fourth in which the Chiefs got a 97-yard kickoff return setting up a go-ahead touchdown, Brady ran one in from four yards out on third-and-goal, Gostkowski drilled a 50-yarder after a 42-yard hookup between Brady and Rob Gronkowski, Mahomes hit Hill for a 75-yard touchdown that tied it and then Brady hit Gronk for 39 yards to set up the game-winner.
After a week debating the merits of Gronk compared to Chiefs tight end Travis Kelce, Gronk got the last word. And so did Brady after we spent more than a week marveling at the arm and composure of Mahomes.
In a lot of ways, this was the rare game that we all forecasted pretty accurately.
Not all the dirty details, but the fact that both teams would go up and down the field on each other.
That the Patriots might hatch a couple of things to confuse Mahomes (both of his picks were costly and caused by savvy defense) but that his arm strength and the speed of his receivers made him a threat no matter where he was on the field.
That Kansas City might get alternately picked on and bullied on the ground and spread thin and picked apart through the air.
But we also learned that Mahomes has it in him to rebound on the road against a dynasty. Yeah, he’s just another notch on the Patriots belt this morning, another under-25 quarterback that lost to the Patriots at Gillette, but he’s the wind beneath the Chiefs wings now. And that’s why the losing locker room didn’t sound like a losing locker room.
The Patriots didn’t play badly and lose badly as they did the last two times the Chiefs saw them in the regular season. The Patriots, overall, played really well and still the Chiefs almost got them.
“I feel like if we had the ball last like they did we would have gone down and scored and won, too,” said Hunt. “We can take this loss. I mean, you never want to lose. We’re going to learn from this, go study and make sure it don’t happen again.”
The Chiefs can “take this loss” as Hunt said because they feel pretty good that this won’t be the only time they see the Patriots this year.
“When you score 40 points and you lose you’ve got to look yourself in the mirror,” said corner Orlando Scandrick. “This team has got great character. It’s one of the best group of guys I’ve been around in my whole 11-year career. We’ll be fine, I am not worried about it at all. The way this team works, the way this team prepares. If we handle our business the way we’re supposed to handle our business there is a good chance we will see them again.”